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Israel spied NGOs with Pegasus before branding them terrorists: Report

Israel spied NGOs with Pegasus before branding them terrorists: Report

Amman: Israel spied Palestinian human rights defenders using Pegasus spyware before six of the latter were declared as "terrorists" two days ago, international digital investigators claimed. The Dublin based Front-Line Defenders (FLD) said in a press release that their digital forensic investigation uncovered the presence of the spyware on phones belonging to at least six human rights defenders, Arab News reported.

FLD initiated the search for the spyware after a staffer from the Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq contacted the digital investigators on October 16, raising concerns about their phones. The FLD statement said that a forensic analysis was made, and the very next day, the presence of Pegasus was determined. After that, the FLD's digital protection coordinator Mohammed Al-Maskati requested additional information in a meeting with six Palestinian NGOs. The FLD found that six iPhones out of 75 checked devices were infected with the spyware.

The FLD findings were independently peer-reviewed by the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab and its Amnesty International Security Lab and confirmed the same. But they could not find the client who deployed Pegasus but said that recent "actions taken by the Israeli government raise many questions."

Salah Hammouri's- a Jerusalem based lawyer and a human rights defender- the phone was one of the six infected. Israel had ordered the revocation of his residency under "breach of allegiance" law on October 18. Also, the Israel defence ministry declared six Palestinian NGOs terrorists, the six who met FLD.

Ubai Aboudi, director of one of the terrorist-branded NGOs, told Arab News that the discovery of spyware in his phone made him feel insecure, exposed and violated.

FLD head Andrew Anderson said that the exposure of this illegal spying, coming on top of baseless claims of terrorism against internationally respected human rights organisations, emphasises the importance of the international community's continued support for their legitimate work. He added that this would warn of any further branding of human rights defenders "terrorists". Also, it will renew efforts to reign in the use of spyware against anyone.

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